Tuesday, August 08, 2017

"History Is What the Present Chooses to Remember About the Past"

"There's a couple of things that I often repeat to my students. Oscar Wilde, I believe, said, 'The only obligation we have to history is to rewrite it,' which I think is a good one. Ernest Renan, the 19th century French historian, said something to the effect of—this is a rough translation—'the historian is the enemy of the nation.' I often ask students, what does he mean by that? 'The enemy of the nation.' Does that mean we’re traitors? No, what he's saying is nations are built on myths, historical myths, and then the historian comes along and if he's doing his job, shatters those myths, and often that makes the historian very unpopular. People like their myths but 'myth' is not a good way of understanding how the society developed to where it is today."

Erik Moshe at History News Network interviews Eric Foner.

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